Monday, June 20, 2016
JACKSON The investigation into the infamous slayings of three civil rights workers in Mississippi is finally closed, the state's attorney general said Monday, 52 years almost to the day after the young men disappeared during "Freedom Summer."
The decision "closes a chapter" in the state's divisive civil rights history, Attorney General Jim Hood said.
The 1964 killings in Neshoba County sparked national outrage and helped spur passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They later became the subject of the movie "Mississippi Burning."
"I think that everything has been done that could possibly be done," Hood said at a news conference. Hood said he talked to relatives of the three slain men — James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner — and told them that new prosecutions are unlikely, barring any more developments.
The three men disappeared June 21, 1964, while working to register African-American voters. Their bodies were found weeks later in an earthen dam.
Hood says the U.S. Department of Justice recently released findings to his office that led to the decision to close the case. He presented to reporters a 48-page report by the FBI.
In 1967, eight people were convicted of federal civil rights violations related to the killings of the three workers. In 2005, Hood and the Neshoba county prosecutor won a manslaughter conviction against white supremacist Edgar Ray Killen.
Hood said officials had considered possible cases against James "Pete" Harris and Jimmy Lee Townsend.
Harris allegedly recruited members of the Ku Klux Klan in Meridian to kill the three men and Townsend allegedly remained with a disabled car on the night that other Klansman went to kill the three men.
Harris was acquitted in the original prosecution of the case, according to the FBI report. Townsend was charged in preliminary charging documents but was never indicted, the report says.
"For these participants the good Lord will have to deal with that," Hood said.
In recent years, Hood said, authorities had tried to develop a case against one person for lying to an FBI agent. But he said the witness in that case declined to sign a statement at the last moment. He did not identify the individual or the witness.
The biggest obstacle to continuing the investigation is that the remaining witnesses are aging and officials are unsure of the accuracy of what they remember in some cases, Hood said.
"This sort of closes a chapter..." Hood said
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